Good all-day light laptop?

I am trying to find a laptop with all-day battery life that’s fairly light. Perhaps I am dreaming too big here, but I thought I’d toss out my hopes and see if there are any recommendations.

I am hoping for:

  • Battery life around 9 hours powered up
  • Fairly light. 2 or 3 pounds would be good.
  • Small. 10″ to 12″ screen is fine.
  • CPU – needs to be something “real”. No ARM or Atom.
  • Storage – size is less important than performance.
  • Screen – resolution has to be better than 768 vertical lines.
  • Ideally, capable of running Debian well.

The point is that I want to be able to do general web browsing with a real browser (Firefox), run Thunderbird for mail, hopefully even be able to run a VM or two under KVM or VirtualBox (with the understanding that this will kill battery life).

I have been using a Thinkpad T420s for a couple of years now. Its battery life wasn’t great even when it was new, and is worse now, of course. An Asus TF700t tablet has great battery life, but the storage system in it is so slow that I rather suspect that the browser cache is hurting, not helping, performance.

I am also rather disappointed with the Android system. I can’t really develop for it with my usual tools. Enough components are closed that, like Windows or MacOS X, I can’t feel like I can truly trust it with sensitive data. Although it has SSH clients available, the SSH server there wants you to pay to use public key auth, and the SSH clients don’t work all that well. Git can work, sort of. Battery life is great, and the keyboard is fine, but even flashing a different OS won’t fix that terrible performance.

I’ve had people recommend certain Asus laptops, a Microsoft Surface Pro, or a Macbook Air. Any thoughts?

32 thoughts on “Good all-day light laptop?

  1. I got a refurbished X201 for 200€ with one year of service from http://luxnote.de. I added 4 GiB RAM and a Samsung SSD 128. Debian is running ootb with non-free Intel Firmware.
    Maybe adding a new battery is a good idea. Mine has around 5h of power.

  2. The new ThinkPad X1 Carbon (14″ 2560×1440 screen, <3 pounds), or the Yoga 2 Pro (13" 3200×1800 screen, 3 pounds).

  3. I did a recent think, purchasing a used X201 for around $250. I found the X201 intel wireless drivers in recent kernels (including wheezy’s) to be irritatingly buggy. After lots of frustration, I installed a hacked bios without a whitelist, and an Atheros AR9285 wireless card. Now my x201 runs without any proprietary blobs, and the wireless is nice and stable.

    There’s even been some coreboot work to implement a Free bios for the machine, but it’s not even close to done yet.

  4. I don’t know what you have against ARM cpu: what specific need do you have?

    I have an ARM chromebook, on which I use crouton to run ubuntu and have everything needed (emacs, git, latex, sagemath). Light, quite fast, great autonomy. The only issue is that its storage is small… I have an SD-card around to store my big data. I got it for about 300€.

    Perhaps a non-ARM chromebook would fit?

  5. Thinkpad again – we have 2 x Lenovo ThinkPad x201 here.
    Maximum memory, SSDs added. Low speed processor, silent.

    Not nearly as good as the X61 I donated to Africa for build quality. After a couple of years, the hinge is going on mine, but my wife’s is still pristine. Battery life OK.

    These are AMD E300, Radeon chipset, Broadcom wireless.

    You’re in a bind – few people develop code intensively. Netbooks are an unpopular form factor. Ultrabooks are beautiful but not fixable / memory upgradeable – this is the problem with the X1 – I seem to recall – and certainly with the Macbook pro.

    Scrape together the cost of one of those and buy 2 x cheap Acer machine that will last two years each and an SSD or two :) All machines I’ve had the chance to, I’ve put SSDs into.

  6. I have the Y2P: brilliant screen, mediocre keyboard, not quite complete linux support, limited ports. In comparison, the X230 has better keyboard, perfect linux support and is brilliant in every way except for the crappy (low-res) screen. X240/T440(s) don’t look bad apart from the wierd track-point buttons, but haven’t actually tested these.

  7. Thinkpad X series laptops are awesome, but I can’t honestly recommend the X240. Lenovo have seriously messed up the keyboard there. They’ve even removed the discrete buttons for the trackpoint.

    Find yourself an X220 or an X230 (if you can stand the chiclet keyboard).

  8. I try to avoid Apple but seeing as the MacBook Air (2013) was the most price-competitive (950 EUR vs 1600 EUR for the Carbon X1 with essentially the same hardware), I ended up purchasing one.

    It’s terrific. I get around 12 hours or regular work out of it with Jessie. (OSX managed even more, like 14-15h, I assume because the installation was optimized for Haswell).

    It’s light, it’s sturdy, and it’s absolutely silent, as in: I don’t ever recall hearing it’s fan. Ever.

    I previously owned a Samsung 730U3E Ultrabook which I lost to water damage. The quality of the MBA is *miles* better than Samsung (I avoid Samsung like the plague now. Whatever they touch, they seem to skip QA. It’s been more than a year and they still haven’t even replied regarding their highly publicized UEFI brick bug).

    Technically, the screen is glossy; in practice it’s barely more glossy than the matte display I had on the Samsung.

    What I do hate though is the lack of standard INS and DEL keys, though. I didn’t notice that until after I purchased it. Apple used Fn+Enter resp. Fn+Backspace instead. I’m think of remapping some keys for this, eg the power key (which I never use) to DEL or so.

  9. Addendum: For a screen smaller than 13″, one thing I wouldn’t look for at all would be display resolution > 1600×900.

    The Samsung 730U3E was a 13″ ultrabook with 1920×1080 resolution. That resolution turned out to be a PITA, as I had to scale everything up to make it usable. Yes, the fonts looked nicer with a higher DPI, but once you have to install a plugin just so Iceweasel uses a default scale of 150%, it get’s annoying.

  10. You don’t need a plugin. Just go to about:config and change layout.css.devPixelsPerPx to 1.5 (or whatever you want).

  11. I’ve been thinking of buying a used Thinkpad x200 or x200s. Decent speed, good weight, and great keyboard.

  12. The new X1 Carbon has an “adaptive keyboard” (which is code for “no F-keys”). You probably don’t want that.

  13. > I don’t ever recall hearing it’s fan

    I believe a fan daemon is recommended for MacBooks runing Linux; I use macfanctld (available in jessie). macfanctld seems to have some rather conservative settings, and when the fan runs it isn’t that quiet. It is, however, relatively customizable.

    If you run without a fan daemon, I suggest monitoring the temperature.

  14. I’m very pleased with my Acer netbook. I first bought the Acer Aspire One back in 2008, a 9″ Atom machine (my main gripe, besides the keys being just a little too small, was the 1024×600 display). After five years, I decided it was time for a change. I now have a 10.6″ Acer Aspire V. A very affordable machine (US$300 in Mexico), very comfortable, slimmer/lighter than my Aspire One. It is quite snappy for my regular use.

  15. Strange thing, I haven’t had any issues with the originally built-in Intel chipset.
    I read about the free bios too but was afraid to nuke my beloved thinkpad. :)

  16. Thanks for the pointer, I’ll have to look into macfanctld. However, I do monitor the CPU temp, and it’s never been high enough to cause alarm (although I do think I should perform a burn-in test soon). In any case, the fan wasn’t audible / running within OSX as well.

    I guess that one of the advantages of the ULV Haswell in there is lower thermal emissions…

  17. Ah. I expected such an option, but didn’t manage to find it in about:config, and apparently my Google-fu failed me.

    Thanks!

  18. My MacBook Air is the 2012 model, so Haswell may indeed make a significant difference. I haven’t had the opportunity to check.

  19. I’m really loving my Sony Vaio touch 11″

    Much pricier than most ultrabooks (around $1k), but it’s lighter than most (around 2.5 lbs) and has an i5 processor.

    6-7 hour battery life, touchscreen, linux (fedora and ubuntu) works flawlessly.

  20. I’ve been using low end TP X-series for nearly a decade and wouldn’t use anything else. Some of the higher end chromebooks look pretty sweet but I have no idea how well they age going to work with linux.

  21. Check out the Dell XPS 13 developer edition.

    Battery life: Great. A little short of 9 hours, but that’s asking a lot
    Weight: 3 lbs
    Small. 13″ screen, but laptop is the same size as a typical 11-12″
    CPU – i5 or i7 Haswell
    Storage – SSD
    Screen – 1080 (unless you’re going way upmarket to the Retina-type stuff, this is as good as it gets in 2014)

    Capable of running Debian well. :) Bonus: No windows or OSX tax.

    Just replaced my 5 year old laptop with one and I’m super happy with it.

  22. The Dell XPS 13 with Ubuntu is obviously a good way to encourage non-Win/non-Mac laptops, but the keyboard seems to be missing keys in my opinion…
    Is there any laptop being produced those days with proper Page up/Page down/Home/End/Del/Insert keys, with 15′ or smaller screens?
    I find them invaluable when coding or otherwise, and are the reason why I’m hanging to my old XPS M1330.

  23. Unless you have already made a decision you could take a look at the Lenovo X240. It’s configurable with a nice screen and a large second battery. Might be slightly over 3 lbs in that case though.

    I’d be interested in what you end with!

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